A thousand years ago when I was an undergraduate student at New College of Florida, I had a quirky ceramics professor who lived in my backyard. The house I was renting with some other students had a guest house, and one day Bob and his wife showed up and moved in. Bob smoked cigars that gave of a mellow, spicy scent and did not let me into his 3-D design class, but asked me to join his ceramics class. I think it was an olive branch to be neighborly more than anything else. The design class had so much more to do with my work, and so many fewer seats than the ceramics class. I was mad, but, after all, he was my neighbor, so I accepted the invitation.
It turned out to be my most memorable college class. Bob gave his students the key code to the building, and a few of us would be there at all hours of the night. And he would be, too. We'd let the slippery clay spin between our fingers, rising, falling, a meditation. Then, if Bob was there, we'd join him outside for a break while thick cigar smoke fogged the night air between us. We learned how Peter Voulkos would turn a perfect plate and then slice it with wire and patch it back together, leaving messy cracks and sensual textures. We learned about Paul Soldner's collaging clay together until it could be nothing but art, not a craft, not a cup you would drink from or a bowl you would eat from. Their work demanded new esteem for clay. Their work concentrated on the beauty of the flaw.
The beauty of the flaw translates to all art. If a writer writes a perfect character, it better be a villain because nobody wants to root for a perfect person. We love the underdog, the broken, the tragic flaw.
In one of our class meetings, Bob told us about a professor he'd once had. The professor divided the class into two groups. The first group had to make 100 pots. Over the course of a semester that's about seven pots a week. That's a LOT of pots. But the number was the only requirement. The pots could be any size or shape, symmetrical or lumpy, it didn't matter. If they made their hundred, the members of this group would receive A's. The second group had the entire semester to make only one pot. But the pot had to be perfect, flawless, without fingerprint, wabble, variation in wall thickness, or any other mark that a human being had anything to do with it. If they turned in one perfect pot, the members of this group would receive A's.
Guess which group came closest to making the perfect pot?
So I'm writing my first blog post about the phrase that keeps me moving forward with my work when I'm afraid it won't come out perfectly. I hear it in my head, in Bob's lively, round-voweled voice: "100 Pots! 100 Pots!"
They will never be perfect, these words, but the more of them I write, the closer they will get. Bob was right. The ceramics class was exactly what I needed.
Image: Credit. Attribution-ShareAlike License.